One of the things that the Federal Government is supposed to do is control immigration and over the last couple of years a great deal of hot air (let’s hope it wasn’t greenhouse gases) has come out of Washington on the subject. However, aside from a mix of photo-op posturing, disingenuous calls for action and whining platitudes, very little was accomplished other than tweaking the vocabulary to turn “illegal alien” into the more PC-compatible “undocumented worker.” I am sorry to say this Nancy, Harry, Ted, Gavin; these people are not"undocumented workers" they are, in point of fact, “illegal aliens.” They came into the country illegally, they are working illegally; they are criminals and now, in an effort to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) off their trail, they are making things worse by stealing the identities of American citizens!
Well, if the Congress won’t do anything about illegal immigration, border security, the resulting identity theft and so on, then ICE and the States will—and they have. The tactics, however, are not just the old catch-and-release policies of days gone by. For a while now, a prosecutorial eye has been fixing its baleful gaze on employers.
Operation Wagon Train
One case in point is the series of ICE raids against Swift & Company, the large meat packing company. The raids, which took place in 2006, were conducted against six of the company’s facilities: Greeley, Colorado; Grand Island, Nebraska; Cactus, Texas; Hyrum, Utah; Marshalltown, Iowa; and Worthington, Minnesota. In a December, 2006 press conference held by Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, Secretary Chertoff made these remarks about the raids (The emphasis below is mine):
Of the 1,282 workers who were arrested on administrative immigration violations, approximately 65 were also charged with identity theft-related charges — those are criminal charges — or other similar criminal violations, including reentry. That number may change as the investigation continues and as more individuals get charged with criminal violations in addition to administrative violations.
The investigation began in February of this year. The evidence we uncovered indicates that hundreds of Swift workers illegally assumed the identities of U.S. citizens, using stolen or fraudulently acquired Social Security numbers and other identity documents which they used to get jobs at Swift facilities. I emphasize that the investigation is continuing, particularly with respect to those who facilitated or conspired with others to allow this use of identity theft to support illegal work. So some of the follow-on is going to continue as the investigation matures.
Now, this is not only a case about illegal immigration, which is bad enough. It's a case about identity theft in violation of the privacy rights and the economic rights of innocent Americans. I will tell you that the people whose identities were stolen — and we believe, based on reporting we got at the federal Trade Commission (FTC) — that these number at least in the hundreds. These individuals suffered very real consequences in their lives. These were not victimless crimes.
“Those who facilitated”—the employers—are targets. In 2007, ICE made 863 criminal arrests; 59 were owners and 33 were lower-level managers. These people were primarily charged with knowingly hiring illegal workers. This is a huge rise from the 176 such arrests that ICE made in 2006. How are they doing it? With the threat of prison and deportation over their heads, it is not difficult for ICE agents to convince many illegal aliens to cut a deal and turn State’s evidence. Wearing wires and using false credentials provided to them by ICE, these illegals tape conversations, apply for and get new jobs and generally collect incriminating evidence of wrongdoing on the part of management and business owners. The evidence is turned over to ICE, arrests are made and prosecutions proceed.
The raids on Swift were merely the largest and most public example, but there are smaller actions being taken each day and they all convey the same message: Do not hire illegal aliens. However, ICE isn’t the only voice with that message. The States, frustrated over Washington’s lack of leadership on the subject, are being heard as well and, as an employer, it would be wise for you to listen.
Hire an Illegal Alien, Go Out of Business
The toughest states for illegal immigration are Tennessee, Arizona and Mississippi, all of which will yank your business license for hiring an illegal alien if you have not followed the law’s provisions for determining an applicant’s status. Mississippi, for example, mandates the use of the Federal Government’s E-Verify system. Employers who use it and still get caught should have nothing to worry about as long as they have done nothing to assist the illegal alien in question. The law states:
Any employer that complies with the requirements of this section shall be held harmless by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, provided the employer is not directly involved in the creation of any false documents, and provided that the employer did not knowingly and willfully accept false documents from the employee.
These laws also target the illegal aliens in addition to the employers. The Mississippi law mandates a felony conviction for an illegal alien accepting work with a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. In Oklahoma, the law requires employers to use E-Verify, it also makes it far more difficult for illegal immigrants to get government identification documents or receive public assistance, authorizes the police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested, and makes it a felony offense for U.S. citizens to knowingly provide shelter, transportation, or employment to illegal immigrants.
The list goes on but the pattern—and the message arising from it—is clear. Frustrated over the inaction of Congress (Section 2, Paragraph (a) of the Tennessee statute reads in part: “For purposes of enforcing federal immigration laws, including, if applicable, federal laws relating to the employment of illegal aliens…”), the States have taken the power to deal with this immigration issue onto themselves. Of course, not everyone agrees. There are those who say that the Congress has the sole authority to pass laws governing immigration, while there are others who argue that the states have the right, a drama that will eventually be played out in the courts. There can be no argument, however, that if the states have to pass laws to enforce existing federal law, then something is deeply wrong in Washington. In fact, that fact alone, that the states feel as if they must—and can—take over what is a federal issue should make every taxpayer sit up and take notice of what is happening on the federal level. However, while you are sitting up and taking notice; you, as a business owner, need to figure out how to protect yourself.
The Bottom Line: Is Cheap Labor Worth the Risk?
Cheap labor: That is why illegals get hired in the first place. You can hire more of them for the same amount of payroll money, or hire less and pocket the difference. What’s more, they don’t demand benefits, they do jobs that others won’t do and their status as illegal aliens makes them very easy to exploit as far as work hours and conditions are concerned.
On the other hand, these same people are now wearing wires and implicating their employers in this criminal relationship. On top of that they are committing identity theft and harming honest Americans just to stay here. Sure, from a cash point of view, they are a bargain, but the hidden costs and risks associated with hiring an illegal alien mount up very quickly.
If you want to make sure that your company is in compliance with the law, a great place to start is the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program. The program, started in 2007, is designed to help employers in certain business sectors develop a more secure and stable workforce and to enhance fraudulent document awareness through education and training. ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) educate and train participants on proper hiring procedures, detecting document fraud, using the E-Verify system and anti-discrimination procedures.
That will help cover you as far as the Federal Government is concerned. You also need to make sure that you are up to scratch with state and local laws as well. Remember, some of these can put you out of business so be aware. This is not a time for panic, it is a time to get educated and get compliant. Illegal immigration is a drain on our economy and a threat to our security, and it is up to all of us to help put an end to it. The community will be better for it and your business will be better for it.